A season for planting
THE Papua New Guinea Smallholders Coffee Growers Association (SHCGA) is embarking on a multi-million Kina project to plant five million new coffee trees that is estimated to bring K25 million annually into the hands of member smallholder growers.
The effort will cover 333 hectares of land involving 67 target specialised farming groups to enter specialty market.
SHCGA general secretary Kaiyo Kana says their work will complement Coffee Industry Corporation’s (CIC) industry rehabilitation being implemented by Productive Partnerships in Agriculture Project (PPAP) aimed at improving production and quality and subsequently the lives of farmers and their families.
The CIC-PPAP’s rehabilitation activities include infilling and replacing of old coffee trees.
Kana says the rehabilitation of existing coffee gardens must continue beyond June 2019 to include more farmers or households while SHCGA want to focus on new growth areas with its existing growers.
The growers will participate on voluntary basis in family units upon payment of a K500 membership fee per group. A new plant takes a minimum of three years to bear cherries. Therefore the fee covers a three-year period for CIC to help provide supervision and management of nurseries and new coffee gardens.
Kana says a group which comprise a husband and wife and their children will clear five hectares of land to plant 15,000 new trees. According to the PNG Coffee Handbook (2nd Edition), a tree produces 0.5kg of cherries. Therefore a family unit is expected to produce 7,500kg of green beans on their five hectare land, which at current premium smallholder coffee price of K10/kg will generate K75,000 per harvest season.
“It’s better to work in small family units then in a clan with many problems. But with the participation of say 700 households in a ward or village covering 3500 ha, we already have a plantation but ownership and management will be in family units.”
Kana emphasizes the present coffee trees are very old and have outlived their purpose.
“We can’t force an old woman to bear more children. This is against nature and the same applies to coffee trees planted during the arrival of modern civilization 120 years ago.
“We didn’t plant any new coffee trees. What we harvesting now were planted by our grandfathers around 50 years ago when we started embracing coffee as a commercial crop.
“Their productivity is declining even with improved management practices and increased use of fertilizers.”
Kana says the association with the support of CIC is planning new growth areas in seven selected provinces namely Southern Highlands, Gulf, Central, Milne Bay, Madang, East and West Sepik.
He says the project will eventually cover all 16 coffee growing provinces.
To walk-the-talk the association has already established new nurseries in Southern Highlands and Simbu province. A total of 40,000 seedlings have been planted in these nurseries that are now waiting for transplanting on new growth areas nearby.
“The aim is to build several small manageable nurseries such as these two in the selected provinces and by 2018 we will have planted five million coffee trees.
“By 2020 the new plants will produce an estimate of 2.5 million kg of green bean coffee valued at (today’s premium smallholder coffee price of K10/kg) K25 million into the hands of smallholders,” says a very optimistic Kana.
Mr Kana possess a wealth of knowledge and experience in coffee industry spanning 15 plus years. He hails from Last Wiru in Pangia in Southern Highlands and has travelled far and wide assisting and collecting views from stakeholders through meetings, forums and consultative workshops across varying grower groups and government agencies like CIC and Department of Primary Industry (now DAL).
Mr Kana says the move is a new direction for the association which will also restructure smallholder practices into block farming.
“This will also encourage management of coffee trees as a business thus increasing production and improvement in quality through group marketing initiatives to complement CIC’s Tree-to-Cup policy.
“We’re restructuring smallholders’ coffee into one model to realign ourselves with CIC.”
Mr Kana says it will cost around K15 million in all as a one-off funding to start the project and urged the National and Provincial Government, Local Level Governments, District Development Authorities and CIC to support this initiative.
“We can sustain ourselves when the project is into full operation as the saying goes, Lukautim Kofi na Kofi bai Lukautim Yu.”
Coffee was introduced to PNG 120 years ago. The research station at Aiyura was distributing seeds throughout the highlands in the late 1930s. It was from these beginnings that the highlands came to embrace the coffee as a commercial crop.
While coffee plants can live up to 100 years, they are most productive between the ages of 7 and 20 years. Their productivity is related to the variety and local ecological conditions like soil type, nutrients and temperature.
A healthy, “happy” coffee plant is one that is able to produce the greatest number of quality seeds. There are three main factors influencing the “happiness” of a plant: genetics, the environment, and applied agricultural management. Since there is no exact formula to produce award-winning specialty coffee, farmers work to meet all the basic needs of plants so they are able to thrive.
As a general rule, proper pruning and fertilization can maintain and even increase their output over the years, depending on the variety.
“If we continue to rely on existing coffee trees then production and quality will continue to decline as we’re experiencing.
“We can begin with new large plantations, but we want to continue with existing smallholder growers and organize them into block farming.
“We must continue to engage smallholders in their core agricultural activities to promote rural economy and at the same time improve their livelihood.”
My Kana says the project is in line with the National Government’s long and medium term development priorities, government’s export driven policy.
Mr Kana says CIC has part if its mandatory responsibilities, will continue to provide trainings in basic book keeping, up-to-date husbandry and trade or marketing practices and conduct quarterly SHCGA meetings.
The author is Information & Communications Officer for Coffee Industry Corporation.
General Secretary of Smallholder Coffee Mr Kaiyo Kana showing the coffee nurseries at Kaiginua Village in Chuave, Simbu Province. This nursery has 20,000 seedlings awaiting transplanting onto new growth areas nearby.
The other nursery at Last Wiru Village in Pangia, Southern Highlands Province. Farmers are now transplanting 20,000 seedlings at the nursery onto new growth areas just nearby.
A land area at Pangia station already cleared as contact point for smallholder farmers to meet and also to store their coffee while waiting for transportation to Lae seaport for export to specialty market overseas.